Uber launches website to help drivers navigate U.S. unemployment system

(Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc UBER.N on Tuesday launched a website to help its ride-hail and delivery drivers navigate the intricate U.S. unemployment system, with many gig workers still waiting to receive jobless pay provided under a U.S. coronavirus response bill.

FILE PHOTO: Uber's logo is pictured at its office in Bogota, Colombia, December 12, 2019. Picture taken December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

The website here allows drivers to look up each state's individual application requirements, directs them to tax form downloads and includes links to online filing systems. It also features a question-and-answer section on legal questions surrounding U.S. coronavirus assistance.

Uber said it would continue to update the website as more information becomes available, with several U.S. states still not having set up a system for gig worker unemployment relief.

“We strongly advocated for independent workers to be included in the CARES Act; now we want to help drivers and delivery people get this financial assistance through their state governments,” Uber said in a statement, referring to the stimulus bill U.S. Congress passed at the end of March.

Unlike regular employees, independent contractors are generally not entitled to benefits including unemployment assistance, and Uber and other gig economy companies do not pay into the unemployment insurance system. Under the federal bill, gig workers for the first time were included for jobless pay.

But many Uber drivers and other gig workers have hit a bureaucratic wall in their efforts to apply for the coronavirus jobless benefits.

State agencies were caught unprepared handling a class of workers who are totally new to the U.S. unemployment system at a time when a record 22 million Americans are seeking unemployment benefits, overwhelming labor departments and causing large backlogs.

Uber on Tuesday said that to date 25 states have created a process for independent contractors to apply, including large states such as New York, Texas and Michigan.

Another 16 states, including California, Florida and Illinois, told Uber they were in the process of setting up application systems for gig workers, according to the company.

Uber said it had reached out to the remaining states to help them streamline the application process.

The federal coronavirus program offers up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits calculated on the basis of the most recent tax return, with payout levels varying state to state. Workers receive an additional $600 per week for up to four months.

With U.S. ride-hailing demand suffering a near total collapse amid the coronavirus outbreak, the crisis has also exposed the vulnerability of gig workers hired as independent contractors.

Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski